All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything … not all things edify. 1 Cor 6:12; 10:23
There it is … in your hand, in your pocket, attached to your belt, or within 3 feet of your present location. More than likely it is in your hand and you are staring down at it – right now – reading this blog post. You may misplace your car keys, your billfold, your purse, or your car – but I would wager (if I did wager) that you have never lost your cell phone. I imagine that it, or its contents, is so valuable to you that you carry loss or damage insurance on it. It contains your contact list; your calendar; your ability to order meals at McDonald’s, Arby’s or Burger King; the ability to find any place on this earth; the ability to communicate with anyone in the whole world – by phone, text, or email; the ability to read eBooks; the ability to communicate with your bank(s); get instant weather updates; and a host of other applications (apps). Apps that are vital to your daily function.
In fact, Statista reported there were over 2,100,000 apps in Google Play Store for Android devices, and over 25 billion apps had been downloaded. Over 2,000,000 apps exist for iOS devices in the Apple App Store.
That’s obvious, so what’s the point? I’ve some thoughts I’ve developed from a few other sources. One is This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel, another is 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, and last is Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with Biblical Counseling. First, in at least three separate counseling cases I have been involved in, the use of texting and email between counselee and other parties complicated the counseling. Second, we know that the counselor should first be a good counselee (self-counsel). It may be that some of these points apply to you, as well as your counselee. (I, being a Facebook addict, am included in this latter group!)
Three Important Questions
This brings us to three important questions to contemplate.
- What are we doing with our technology, specifically our smart phones?
- How is our technology (specifically our smart phones) affecting us spiritually?
- What is your goal in life?
In order to answer these first two questions honestly, you need to first answer that last question: What is my goal in life? After all, shouldn’t our goals affect what we do and what affects us? So, what is your goal? Take a moment and get a pen and paper and write your goal down. Keep it in front of you as you read through the remainder of this blog. Stop from time to time and ponder what you have written down and consider the two questions posed above.
I concur with the comment John Piper says in the Introduction to 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You which says,
But I do have one small advantage in pondering smartphones. I’m seventy years old. This is an advantage for two reasons. One is that I’ve been an adult during the entire computer revolution—from the beginning. The other is that I can feel the onrush of eternity just over the horizon.
At 72, soon to be 73, I too have survived the technology revolution. Also, as a student of Computer Science and practitioner for some 38 years – computer technology has been near and dear to me and provided a reasonable livelihood for our family.[*] Piper goes on to say, “A happy consciousness of the reality of death and the after life is a wonderful liberator from the faddishness and the empty-headed screen tapping.” Piper calls it a “happy consciousness” because we become immersed in the device and it distracts us from thinking about death.
Let’s start by thinking about your day. Are you driven by “the fear of missing out”? The symptoms have earned their own acronym – FOMO. This is the fear that you may be missing out on what is happening on social media. After turning off your alarm, do you check your email for world news and check your Facebook for new “likes” as soon as you rise? Such activity would indicate FOMO. Or possibly repeating the same actions just before going to bed at night? Or both? “Our phones are addictive, and, like addicts, we seek hits immediately in the morning. And, yes, there’s an app for that.”
What about our brothers and sisters? Of 8,000 Christians surveyed, 54% check in within minutes of waking. 73% check social media before their morning spiritual disciplines. 70% check Facebook daily.
Ofir Turel, a psychologist at California State University-Fullerton, warns that Facebook addicts, unlike compulsive drug abusers, “have the ability to control their behavior, but they don’t have the motivation to control this behavior because they don’t see the consequences to be that severe.”
We now check our smartphones every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives. I’ve worked around a college campus much of my life. I can tell you that most students (and probably staff) walk around with their nose in their phone. They walk out into cross-walks not even aware there may be crossing traffic. As I drive on local streets, I see over 50% of drivers who think they can text and drive. AAA says you increase your chance of an accident by 50% if you are not attentive to what you are doing or what is going on around you (not just texting, but any activity that distracts you from focus on driving). Your reaction time doubles.
Why Is it Important?
So what do we make of these digital distractions, and what kind of consequences can we expect?
The consequences are real. As digital distractions intrude into our lives at an unprecedented rate, behavioral scientists and psychologists offer statistical proof in study after study: the more addicted you become to your phone, the more prone you are to depression and anxiety, and the less able you are to concentrate at work and sleep at night. Digital distractions are no game. Because we are all so interconnected, hundreds of people (friends, family members, and strangers) can interrupt us at any moment. And when we are bored, with the flick of a thumb we can skim an endless list of amusements and oddities online.
What does the Bible say about distractions?
In six places, the New Testament warns us about the effects of unchecked distractions on the soul, and we can boil those distractions down into three potent categories:
- Unchecked distractions that blind souls from God. These are the most dangerous distractions: worldly worries, anxieties, and pursuits of wealth, self-centered concerns with personal security that suffocate the soul by snatching away seeds of truth, choking off the fruit of the gospel, and rendering its hope irrelevant. The vanity of the ephemeral robs our lives of what has infinite value. (cf. Matt 13:22, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14)
- Unchecked distractions that close off communion with God. These distractions are exemplified in Martha, who was so distracted by her table service for others that she missed the importance of Christ’s words for her own life. We can become so unfocused in life that we get lost in the unforgiving wheel of daily tasks and fail to listen to the voice of Christ. We fail to pray and fail to see him as intently listening and drawing near to us. God feels distant because we are distracted. Yet he seeks us; he seeks our undivided attention. (cf. Luke 21:34-36)
- Unchecked distractions that mute the urgency of God. Marriage is a beautiful gift, but it also comes packaged with routines and obligations—certain domestic distractions—demanding much attention. In embracing the blessings of marriage, spouses also willingly accept the distractions of the married life and relinquish what Paul sees as the “undistracted” life—the gift of singleness. (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-35, 1 Cor 7:1-5; Matt 24:42; 1 Cor 16:13)
Why do these distractions lure us away? Why do we take the bait?
- First, we use digital distractions to keep work away. When life becomes most demanding, we crave something else—anything else.
- Second, we use digital distractions to keep people away. God has called us to love our neighbors, yet we turn to our phones to withdraw from our neighbors and to let everyone know we’d rather be somewhere else.
- Third, we use digital distractions to keep thoughts of eternity away. Distractions give us easy escape from the silence and solitude whereby we become acquainted with our finitude, our inescapable mortality, and the distance of God from all our desires, hopes, and pleasures.
Kevin Wax comes at this from a different, but I think, helpful way. In Chapter 1 of This is Our Time he says,
People want to be relevant. So, you promote yourself to gain favor from others, climb the social ladder, cultivate an on-line presence that others care about. Through likes and comments and posts you can see where everyone stands. We want to be relevant, and so we play the game to convince others of our relevance. The bigger issue with our phones is what is it doing to our hearts and minds without our knowing it? The primary myth that smartphones tells you every day is that you are the center of the universe. This makes you feel more in control, more Godlike, more knowledgeable, more connected.
This is the opposite of what Christ says: when I am weak (in myself), then I am strong (in Christ).
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10, NASB)
What are the Results?
As this wealth of information flows your way, you can easily be overcome. In order to manage the flow of information you impose filters on the flow of information. What you fail to realize that by filtering the flow of information, you just started censoring the input you receive. As a result, you change the sources of your information (you “unfriend” those who’s information is not relevant). Pretty soon, your friends are those who think like you do. You no longer consider alternative points of view. You drift off into one of the “far” positions – far right or left, far liberal or conservative, radical Christian or weak Christian. From there you may start filtering all your sources of information to that is it consistent with your thinking. For example: you listen to Fox News on TV, Read Newsmax magazines, Follow Breitbart on Facebook, and listen to XM 125 Patriot Channel on the radio in the car. (My list, by the way). I have 210 friends on Facebook who think the same way I do, I think. Leastwise the ones who post do. Missing from that list, of course, is the source of true wisdom and truth – the Bible. I barely have time for that. I ever so easily get distracted.
What is the Solution?
In Competing Spectacles Reinke confronts us with the question – what is the Ultimate Spectacle? Shouldn’t it be Jesus Christ? Are we distracted by “shining distractions competing for our attention and demanding our affections – quickly eroding our hearts, making it more difficult to walk through life actively treasuring that which is most important and yet invisible?” Romans 12:1-2 came to mind after reading this.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (emphasis added)
The solution is to “redirect our gaze away from the addictive eye-candy of the world and onto the Ultimate Spectacle” – Jesus Christ. He has revealed all we need to know to please Him in His Word.
For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2, NASB)
I guess – NO! I know – after 72 years it’s time to reorder priorities and put Christ back first in my life. Do all those other sources have a place – probably not. I tend to look at the world from one point of view. That alienates about 50% of the population. That’s certainly not what Paul says we should do in 1 Corinthians 9:22. Alienating a person is not going to allow you the opportunity to “save some.”
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22, NASB)
That’s my story. What’s yours?
How did you do with the three questions:
- What is your goal in life?
- What are you doing with your technology, specifically your smart phone?
- How is your technology (specifically your smart phone) affecting you spiritually?
 Wax, Trevin, This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, 2017, ISBN 978-1-4336-4847-2 (Kindle book)
 Reinke, Tony, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2017, ISBN 9781433552441 (pdf), Introduction also available as a free PDF download from http://www.desiringgod.org/books/12-ways-your-phone-is-changing-you. Accessed 4/2/2019.
 Reinke, Tony, Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age, Wheaton, Crossway Books, 2019, ISBN 978-1433563799 (Kindle book).
 Reinke, Tony. 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (pp 11-12). Crossway. Kindle Edition
 Reinke, Tony. 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (p. 16). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
 Rebecca Strong, “Brain Scans Show How Facebook and Cocaine Addictions Are the Same,” BostInno, bostinno.streetwise.co (Feb. 3, 2015).
 Reinke, Tony. 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (p. 43). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
I learned about computers and programming at Purdue University in the late 1960’s. I started learning about computers on an IBM 1401 computer at Purdue. The computer had all the basic computing functions – input, processing, and output. Input was a card reader. The computer did the processing and produced output on a line printer. Programming was done on a key punch separate from the computer. The 1401 computer works very much like the computers today. Every computer goes through a start-up process (aka booting up). Pressing start causes the computer to read data from a specific location into memory, and that bootstrap program then loads other programs to make the system useful for users. The 1401 would read cards when you press start. Today your smart phone reads a program from a set place in internal memory to start up your phone. Today’s smart phone you hold in your hand has far more computing power than ever before. It took Computer Scientists several years to learn how to get a computer to do more than one thing at a time. Something your smart phone does now without your even thinking about it.
I helped introduce automation to Faith Baptist Church by introducing Pastor Goode to the personal computer and First Choice software for text editing.
I helped introduce automation to the Internal Auditing Department at Purdue University, where I was employed. Director Dawson said we should get a personal computer for the department and see how it could be used in auditing.
I have a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and a Master of Science in computing from Purdue University.
I have over 38 years of computing experience in programming and systems administration. Seventeen of those years were in Information Systems Auditing at Purdue verifying automated systems worked as advertised and testing data integrity.
I’ve served in many roles at Faith Church over the 42 years we’ve been members.